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History Cookbook

Norman and Medieval Picture Gallery Food

The Norman diet was plain but healthy
The Normans ate a plain but quite healthy diet.
The diet consisted of dairy products, oatmeal porridge, green vegetables and, sometimes, meat. Honey was used as a sweetener on almost everything and was also used to make mead. More
As the era progressed, food became richer and more varied
As the Medieval era progressed food became richer and more varied.
New foods were introduced. Europeans who went on Crusades met with many new herbs and spices, as well as sugar, for the first time. More
Grains and breads were very important in the diet
Bread was the main part of the diet for almost everyone.
There was a range of white and brown breads made from different mixtures of wheat and rye flour. Poor families would normally eat dark, heavy bread made from barley and rye. More
The importance of bread saw the introduction of special laws and standards
Because bread was such an important food, there were laws introduced, known as the Bread Laws.
Bakers who were found guilty of selling loaves that were underweight, could be locked in the pillory (a wooden framework on a post with holes for the head and hands). More
Cooking was mainly over open fires
Cooking was mainly over open fires and cooking methods were limited.
Many ingrdients were put in the pot together and soups and stews were common. There were simple bread ovens and meats were either boiled or spit roasted. More
Plates were made from thick slices of stale bread and, later, wood.
Plates were made from thick slices of stale bread, later of wood.
The bread plates had a slight hollow in the centre and were known as trenchers. At the beginning of the period, people mainly ate with their fingers; later there were knives and spoons.
Most people made their own food
Most people grew and made their own food.
The monasteries provided a place where travellers could stay for a night and have a meal.  In towns, shops and inns sold food. However, most people in Medieval England lived in villages and made their own food from what they grew on their land. More
Most people had some livestock and access to dairy produce
Most households kept a pig and cow or two, and most people were able to have some dairy produce.
Peasants relied mainly on pigs for meat. Pigs found their own food, such as acorns in the woods, so they were cheap to keep and could be slaughtered any time of the year. More
A lot of meals were soups or stews, pottage was particuarly popular
A large part of the peasants’ meals were soups.
These were made from peas and beans, cabbage, nuts, berries, leeks, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, parsley, and garlic. In the later middle ages new fruits and vegatables, such as spinach, found their way to England where they quickly became popular. From this, the peasants got most of their small amount of protein. Pottage was the commonest food eaten daily. More
The tables of the rich had many fine dishes
In contrast, the food on the table of the rich (such as the lord of the manor) was full of variety.
All the people – the lord, his family, his guests, his men-at-arms – would eat together in the hall. Foods eaten in manors and castles included meat, fish, pastries, vegetables, fresh bread, cheese, and fruit. At a feast, boar, roast swan, or peacock might be added. More
Game was very important in the medieval diet
A large amount of game was served at the tables of the rich.
There were pheasants, hogs, deer, boar and hares which all lived in woodland surrounding most villages. Rabbits were kept in specially made warrens where they were protected from poachers by an armed warrener. These animals were the property of the lord. More
Poaching was a serious offence but often provided food for poor tables
Sometimes villages got permission to hunt animals.
They were allowed to hunt animals such as hedgehogs and squirrels. Poaching was severely punished. Despite this, the poor would often have the prizes of unlawful hunting on their table! More
Feast were great occasions and could last several days
Feasts were great occasions, sometimes continuing for days.
In the church calendar, there were both feast and fast days. On feast days, huge amounts of food would be available in the castle or manor.  There might be as many as a dozen courses. More
At the table, people were seated according to their importance.
Banquets and feasts were held in the great hall.
At the table, guests were seated according to their importance. The most important people sat at the high table. More
You had to entertain people of higher rank crossing your land
A person who held lands from someone of higher rank, was required to feed them when they travelled across their lands.
This included the lord and his company. William the Conqueror travelled with a very large household and, if they stayed a long time, it could nearly bankrupt the lord who was their host. More
Fish was important, as the medieval Church banned eating meat on certain days
The Church forbade the eating of meat on Fridays.
Until the late medieval period, it was also banned on Saturdays and Wednesday. Meat, eggs and dairy food were forbidden in Lent. This meant that fish was eaten about half the days of the year, especially near the coasts. More
The fishing industry became very important
The fishing industry became very important.
Because of this need for fish, the sea fishermen went further and further out into the Atlantic Ocean throughout medieval times. More
Most people ate food in season; meat and fish were salted or dried to preserve them
People mostly ate food that was in season.
There was no refrigeration and food did not keep for long.  Farm animals were often killed in the autumn, as there was not enough fodder to keep them through the winter.  The meat would be dried or salted to keep it. More
Ale and wine were important drinks
Everyone, young and old, drank ale.
This was an extremely important part of the diet, as water was often dirty and the brewing process killed a lot of the germs. Many different types of ale were made. Some were strong but most of them were quite weak. A common drink at breakfast was 'small beer' which was thin and weak, and was drunk soon after brewing. More
From this era we have the first English cookbooks
From this period, we have the first written cookbooks.
They were mainly about food for the rich. We can get an idea of the food eaten by the poor from plays and other written material. More
The lord of the manor ate well
The lord of the manor could expect three good meals a day.
The first, a leisurely breakfast, was eaten between 6am and 7am. A rich and hearty dinner was eaten between 11am and 2pm and the main meal was usually between 6pm and 7pm. More
Peasants or serfs would eat at sunrise, midday and sunset
Peasants or serfs would eat at sunrise, midday and sunset
Breakfast was usually early. Lunch would be eaten around 11am-12am, to keep the strength up, and the final meal after work had ended. Meals were simple; there was no choice between dishes as with the lord of the manor.  More
In times of famine, people survived by eating foods from the forests
The medieval world was sometimes a hungry one.
Hunger was an ever-present danger if the crops failed. Even in bad times, people survived by adapting their diet by eating foods from the forests. After the dreadful plague, known as the Black Death, killed over a third of the population in 1348, even the poor could eat wheat! More

Pork with Pine Nut Sauce
Dry fry the pine kernels on a medium heatKeep tossing and moving until they are lightly browned Set...